Contributed by Ed Sindoni
Part of the National Parts Depot weekend of events is the cruise between their Ocala warehouse and the Gulf of Mexico community of Cedar Key. This is open to all Ford vehicles whether you participate in Saturday’s Ford & Mustang Roundup (the 24th and final) or not. On a rather unpleasant, cool and damp morning, all drivers arrived to be greeted by the NPD staff, coffee and doughnuts, and approximately 300 vehicles anxious to start the countryside tour. Coordinator Derek Putnam gathered the drivers together at 9:30, gave a brief overview of the route, cited some precautions, and requested all cars to just follow each other.
Even though I have photographed this event for the past five years, it wasn’t until this year that I actually drove and rode in it. My friend, Will Vermilya, decided that he would bring his ‘99 Mustang Cobra 5 speed convertible for the ride with me acting as co-pilot and navigator.
Our group was led out of the parking lot and onto the local road by the Ocala Police. We followed local roads experiencing the rolling landcape of Marion County. The drive was made easier by the fact that the sheriff’s department and other local law enforcement officials stopped traffic for our benefit, and allowed us through red traffic lights and stop signs. The line of cars was so strung out that the last vehicle to leave NPD departed thirty minutes after the first and was driven by Jim Schmidt, founder of NPD.
We traveled through the horse country, watching the beautiful thoroughbreds and Arabians, as they in turn watched us. The farms are huge and extraordinarily breathtaking. There are also many farm supporting businesses along the way including equine training centers, veterinary services, and feed and supply facilities. All of this was viewed as the wipers regularly swept across our windshield.
The Otter Creek Road (FL-24) from US 19 west to Cedar Key has a completely different look as it is initially lined with tall pine trees, then later salt marshes and inlets as we approach the gulf. This road goes on for twenty-four miles and is as straight as can be, making it very tempting the ignore the rule about passing. (I believe that was “Gotta Have it Green” that flew by us and many others!)
This was not a Florida Chamber of Commerce day, and once at our destination, we were directed to the boat launch area for parking, and then quickly made our way to one of the local restaurants for lunch. While waiting for our food and peering out our large seaside window, sheets of rain danced across the whitecaps, and did not make us anxious at all to return to our Mustang.
Back at NPD, three activities awaited us: the most obvious was the store itself, then in the parking lot VMP Tuning had its mobile chassis dyno tuning available (highest hp received an NPD “goody bag”), and finally the collection. Open on special events and private showings, Jim and Rick Schmidt have garnered about 200 unique vehicles which occupy about 25% of the building space. Many of these are extremely low mileage or specific production number vehicles. They range in age from the brass era to current classics. Virtually all domestic brands are represented.
After a fun filled, albeit cool and wet day, this set the stage for the Ford & Mustang Roundup Saturday. As you might imagine, a severe cleaning process was ahead for many of the participants, but it was worth it for the final Pony Trails Cruise.
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